Josh McCown is the incumbent starter making the big bucks. Sam Darnold is the team's first top-three draft pick at the quarterback position since it took Joe Namath first overall in 1965. So it was easy to consider Teddy Bridgewater the odd man out on the New York Jets' depth chart entering organized team activities last week.
Already, Bridgewater has reminded us not to overlook him or the fact that he was a first-round pick in 2014, the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowler in 2015. Sure, it's been a couple of years since the Louisville product has completed a regular-season pass in the NFL, but it's important to remember that Bridgewater is only 25 years old.
And he's been all the rage thus far at OTAs, according to the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta, who wrote last week:
"Bridgewater was the best quarterback on the field on the first day of the Jets' organized team activities, a promising sign for a guy who had a solid start to his career before a mishap in practice nearly cost him that career. He was fluid in his dropbacks without a trace of a limp. He was smooth on a designed rollout to his right on one of his nine snaps in 11-on-11 team drills."
And ESPN.com's Rich Cimini reported Sunday that "the organization couldn't be happier with Bridgewater, one of the bright spots in Week 1 of OTA practices."
"Not only did he perform well in the first practice, open to the media," Cimini added, "but he maintained it throughout the week."
If Bridgewater can keep it up, he'll likely become a candidate to start in place of McCown while the team waits on Darnold. But he'd still be relegated to a stopgap role in the best-case scenario because eventually the Jets will give Darnold a chance to take the reins regardless of what his seniors do in 2018.
So if he keeps performing well, Bridgewater might become the hottest commodity on the trade market. There's little risk associated with dealing for a high-potential quarterback scheduled to make just $6 million on a one-year contract, which could cause a quarterback-needy team to try hard to obtain Bridgewater's services this offseason.
From the Jets' standpoint, they already have their bridge, they already have their future and they're not going to get anything for Bridgewater if he hits free agency at the conclusion of the season. The team signed Bridgewater to a prove-it deal in March, not knowing with certainty that in April they'd land a blue-chip rookie at the same position. Now that Darnold is on the roster, the only way to capitalize on what already appears to be a good investment is to flip Bridgewater to somebody who will value him more as a potential long-term solution under center.
That could be a team like the Indianapolis Colts, who haven't seen their franchise quarterback throw a full-sized football in well over a year. What if Andrew Luck's balky throwing shoulder continues to keep him out well into August?
It could be a team like the Miami Dolphins, who might be losing hope that Ryan Tannehill will become a bona fide franchise quarterback. Tannehill turns 30 in July, but he's missed the team's last 19 regular-season games because of a recurring knee injury, and he's never been to a Pro Bowl.
It could even be a team like the New England Patriots or New Orleans Saints, who need potential successors for Tom Brady and Drew Brees, respectively, and might be willing to extend Bridgewater's contract in order to keep him on the roster for a few years.
Beyond that, Bridgewater could earn the right to be viewed as a better alternative than backups such as:
- Matt Barkley (Cincinnati Bengals)
- Cody Kessler (Jacksonville Jaguars)
- Blaine Gabbert (Tennessee Titans)
- Paxton Lynch (Denver Broncos)
- Davis Webb (New York Giants)
- Colt McCoy (Washington Redskins)
- Jake Rudock (Detroit Lions)
- Brett Hundley (Green Bay Packers)
- Matt Schaub (Atlanta Falcons)
- Garrett Gilbert (Carolina Panthers)
- Sean Mannion (Los Angeles Rams)
- C.J. Beathard (San Francisco 49ers)
- Austin Davis (Seattle Seahawks)
In other words, if the football gods decide to inflict a major injury on Andy Dalton, or Blake Bortles, or Marcus Mariota, or Case Keenum, or Eli Manning, or Alex Smith, or Matthew Stafford, or Aaron Rodgers, or Matt Ryan, or Cam Newton, or Jared Goff, or Jimmy Garoppolo or Russell Wilson, the first call that quarterback's team makes might be to Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan.
Last August, the Dolphins, Colts, Panthers and Baltimore Ravens were all without their starting quarterbacks because of injuries. Chances are good at least one team will encounter that fate this summer.
And when that happens, Bridgewater's $6 million salary will be enticing. He has a significantly higher ceiling than current free-agent quarterbacks like Matt Moore, Mark Sanchez and Kellen Clemens, and he wouldn't cost much more than any of them.
Colin Kaepernick possesses similar potential and might be available for less money, but teams have already made their feelings about him pretty clear. If Kaepernick were in higher demand than Bridgewater, he'd be on a roster right now. Regardless of the reasons why he's not wanted, the fact is that he's not.
That makes Bridgewater the most desirable signal-caller who isn't a starter or an heir apparent.
Of course, Bridgewater's surgically repaired left knee is the elephant on the practice field at Florham Park. That injury is the sole reason he hasn't started a game since the 2016 preseason. Had Bridgewater's career not been derailed, the Jets likely wouldn't have been able to sign him to such a team-friendly contract.
If franchises weren't sure about Bridgewater then, a few strong OTA practices won't be enough to change their minds. He'll have to show them that he can continue to make those throws against live defenses in training camp and the preseason.
Yours truly wrote in March that Bridgewater could be the biggest steal in free agency if he can get back to where he was before he blew out his knee just days prior to the start of the 2016 season.
As I noted then, Bridgewater is only two seasons removed from a campaign in which he completed 65.3 percent of his passes and helped get the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs. During the final four weeks of that campaign, he ranked sixth among qualified quarterbacks with a 108.5 passer rating.
Bridgewater doesn't have a howitzer, but he's a smart, well-disciplined and accurate passer with a knack for delivering in big moments. He excels with the game on the line, and he shines in the red zone. In fact, among quarterbacks with at least 25 red-zone pass attempts in his 2014 rookie season, Bridgewater led the league with a completion percentage of 84.4 inside his opponent's 20-yard line, while his touchdown-to-interception ratio under those circumstances was 9-1.
He has his physical limitations, and his knee will always be a concern. But if he continues to come through this offseason, he'll be in high demand later this year when other teams become desperate for an upgrade behind center.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.